Poverty driven by climate change linked to suicide spike in Pakistani desert region

Poverty driven by climate change linked to suicide spike in Pakistani desert region
Villagers pose for a photograph in Mataro Saand, Tharpakar district, Pakistan. (AN Photo)
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Updated 16 April 2021

Poverty driven by climate change linked to suicide spike in Pakistani desert region

Poverty driven by climate change linked to suicide spike in Pakistani desert region
  • At least 143 people take own lives in Thar desert’s Tharparkar, Umerkot districts between 2016, 2020
  • Extreme weather patterns are frequent threat, major cause of poverty pushing people to suicide

MITHI, Sindh: Last year, two cousins who wanted to marry each other in a town hemmed in the rolling dunes of Pakistan’s Thar desert took their own lives by hanging themselves from a tree because they did not have the money to arrange their wedding.

Just a few years earlier, the girl’s father had also killed himself due to financial troubles.

Earlier this month, at a bus stop near the multibillion-dollar Thar Coal Power Project, Amru Kohli, the couple’s 60-year-old grandmother waited in the scorching heat for the next bus to arrive, hoping to collect some charity — her only source of income in a region where poverty driven by climate change is increasingly pushing people to suicide.

“With no livelihood available and my family with debt of more than 100,000 (Pakistani) rupees ($654), I have no option but to beg,” Kohli told Arab News.

Six people in her village had committed suicide in the last two years. “The main reason was extreme poverty,” she said.

The UN Development Program’s Multidimensional Poverty Index for Pakistan reported that 87 percent of the population in Thar lived in poverty. And climate change was now pushing locals into more deprivation.

Between 2016 to 2020, the Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA), an arm of the provincial government, said 767 suicides were recorded in Sindh, out of which the highest number, 79 cases, occurred in Tharparkar district in the Thar desert and another 64 cases were reported in the desert’s Umerkot district.

With a total of 143 cases registered in Thar, one in every five suicides in Sindh occurs in the desert region, authority officials said.

The non-governmental organization, the Association for Water, Applied Education, and Renewable Energy (Aware), put total deaths by suicide in Thar at 348 between 2016 and 2020.

“With every passing day, suicide cases are rising in the desert,” Ali Akbar Rahimoo, Aware’s executive director, told Arab News.

“In the first three months of 2021, suicide cases in Tharparkar district reported in mainstream media were 20 cases, out of which 13 were women.”

While the SMHA report cites mental illness, domestic issues, and poverty as the main reasons for suicides throughout the province, researchers have linked the spike in suicide rates in the Thar region to droughts brought about by climate change.

“After the 1970s, the area has witnessed prolonged droughts and famine coming more frequently than in the past.

“Nowadays, even if there are rains, they are erratic and delayed, which reduces their effects on the area whose economic cycle and agriculture is solely dependent upon rainfall. Each drought takes locals five years back,” Rahimoo said.

Dr. Lakesh Khatri, a Mirpurkhas-based psychiatrist who has worked in Thar, said mental health issues linked to droughts and their effect on household incomes were contributing to rising suicide rates in the desert.

“Thar’s economy is dependent on rainfall as there is no comprehensive river water supply in the desert or any other major livelihood source.

“Prolonged droughts shrink available means of income. Hence, lack of livelihood opportunities and inaccessibility to resources triggers inhabitants toward depression, ultimately to taking their own lives,” he added.

Locals have also protested Chinese-funded schemes such as the Thar Coal Power Project, with its estimated 175 billion tons of coal, saying the program will pollute their water and threaten their ancestral lands. But construction has continued.

“Locals don’t see any trickle-down effect coming to them from the mega projects built on natural sources they are the owners of,” Rahimoo added.

Maryam Shabbir, a researcher at the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute, told Arab News that climate-change-driven poverty was a new addition to the impoverished region’s problems, with “extreme weather patterns” increasing people’s vulnerability.

“It could be handled through pre-policy making. If this is not addressed, it could turn into a political, social, and economic disaster of international scale,” she said.

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After months of delays, Somalia postpones election amid threats of violence

Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
Updated 26 July 2021

After months of delays, Somalia postpones election amid threats of violence

Somalia’s leaders agreed last month on a voting timetable after months of stalemate. The country is facing violence by Al-Shabab militants. (AFP/File)
  • The country’s Al-Shabab militants warned politicians last week against taking part in the vote

MOGADISHU: Somalia has postponed elections that were due to start on Sunday after months of delays in the deeply unstable Horn of Africa country, officials told AFP.

Indirect parliamentary and presidential polls were due to open on July 25 with four days of voting for the upper house by state delegates. The election cycle was due to end with a presidential poll on Oct. 10.
“Even though the plan was the upper house election to start around the various states today, there is a delay, the election may not take place as planned,” a member of the electoral commission said.
The delay was due to the fact that federal regions were neither able to submit candidates’ lists in time, nor to form local committees to cast the ballots, the source added.
A spokesman for the federal government, Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimu, told AFP that the elections were “postponed,” without providing details.
Last week, the country’s Al-Shabab militants warned politicians against taking part in the elections, which were due to kick off after months of deadlock and delays.
The threat, in an audio message purportedly recorded by Al-Shabab leader Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah, underscores the security challenges facing the election process in the country.
The Al-Qaeda-linked group has been fighting to overthrow the federal government since 2007 and frequently attacks government, security and civilian targets.
Somalia was plunged into an unprecedented constitutional crisis early this year, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and the leaders of Somalia’s five states were unable to agree on the terms of a vote before his term lapsed in February.

SPEEDREAD

Somalia was plunged into an unprecedented constitutional crisis early this year, when the country’s leadership was unable to agree on the terms of a vote before his term lapsed in February.

After months of stalemate that at times turned violent, the political leaders finally agreed last month on a voting timetable.
According to the agreed plan, delegates from the five federal states, chosen by various clans in that state, elect parliamentarians, who then elect a president. The process was due to kick off on Sunday.
But according to several sources, the sole state that was capable of carrying out a vote “during the week” was Jubaland. The state has already chosen its delegate committee and could publish a list of candidates “during the week.”
“We are expecting the election to take place soon,” said Mohamed Adan, a senior government official in Jubaland. Another source said the electoral process could kick off in the state later on Sunday.
In Puntland state, sources said the elections were delayed because of “technical reasons.”
In Galmudug state, the local parliament is on a break and will reconvene in early August.
In South-West state, the process is blocked because the regional president is out of the country.
Somalia’s political impasse exploded into violence in April when negotiations collapsed and the lower house extended the president’s mandate by two years, sparking gunbattles on the streets of Mogadishu. Under pressure the president, commonly known as Farmajo, reversed the extension and ordered his prime minister to reconvene with the state leaders to chart a fresh roadmap toward elections.
The ballots follow a complex indirect model whereby special delegates chosen by the country’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.
Successive leaders have promised a direct vote but political infighting, logistical problems and the Al-Shabab insurgency has prevented such an exercise. The upper house vote will be followed by elections for the lower house from Sept. 12-Oct. 2, according to an updated timetable issued last week.
According to a statement issued in June, both assemblies were due to convene to vote for the president on October 10, but no date for this election was given in the updated timeline.
Somalia has not held a direct one-person, one-vote election since 1969, the year dictator Siad Barre led a coup and went on to rule for two decades.
Barre’s military regime collapsed in 1991 and Somalia sank into anarchy.


Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade
Updated 26 July 2021

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade

Putin warns of ‘lethal’ strikes at Russian warship parade
  • The Russian leader’s boast comes days after military officials announced tests of advanced new weapons

PETERSBURG: President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that Russia’s navy was capable of delivering lethal strikes against underwater and aerial enemy targets during a parade of warships in the port city of Saint Petersburg.

The Russian leader’s boast comes days after military officials announced tests of advanced new weapons, some of which come from an arsenal Putin has described as “invincible.”

“The Russian navy today has everything it needs to guarantee the protection of our country and our national interests,” he said.

“We can detect underwater, surface or aerial enemies and target them if a lethal strike is necessary,” Putin said according to a broadcast on state television.

The Russian leader was speaking on the sidelines of an annual parade of military vessels, flanked by naval officers in white, and also Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Putin said Russia had secured its place among the world’s leading naval powers, including by developing “the latest hypersonic precision weapons still unrivaled in the world.”

The US, China, France and other major powers have announced plans to develop their own hypersonic weapons and are expected to soon catch up.

With the second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world and a huge cache of ballistic missiles, Russia already has more than enough military capacity to deter its enemies.


Pakistani-Indian music label plans joint release every month

Pakistani-Indian music label plans joint release every month
Updated 25 July 2021

Pakistani-Indian music label plans joint release every month

Pakistani-Indian music label plans joint release every month
  • Tarish Music formed this year to bring together subcontinental artists
  • Latest track featuring stars Atif Aslam and Sajal Aly crossed 2.4 million views since release

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani-Indian music label behind Atif Aslam’s most recent hit said it is planning to release collaborations every month bringing together artists from Pakistan and India — two neighboring countries that have been locked in enmity for the past seven decades.

While relations between Pakistan and India have been tense since the partition of the British-ruled subcontinent into Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India in 1947, the independent music record label, Tarish Music, seeks to create a bridge between them by bringing together artists from both countries.

The label was established earlier this year by producers Omer Ahmad and Tarun Chaudhary.

“The plan is to release 12 songs a year with six singers from India and six from Pakistan,” the label's Pakistani co-owner, Ahmed, said in a recent interview. “We’ll release a song every month.”

Their latest track, “Rafta Rafta,” which features Pakistani stars — singer Aslam and actress Sajal Aly — was released on Wednesday on Eid Al-Adha.

Shot in Pakistan’s scenic mountainous northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan, “Rafta Rafta” was written by Indian singer and songwriter Raj Ranjodh and Pakistani director Hassam Baloch.

Having crossed 1 million views on the day of release, the song has now been listened to more than 2.4 million times on YouTube and is now the platform’s third top trending piece.

“It was an amazing experience working with Atif Aslam, everyone knows how loved he is in the subcontinent,” Ahmad said. “In terms of music, he always comes up with something fresh, innovative and different. His vocal skills are on another level.”

“It has been a truly delightful experience overall.”

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America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general
Updated 25 July 2021

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general

America to continue air strikes supporting Afghan troops: US general
  • Since early May, violence has surged after the insurgents launched a sweeping assault
  • Taliban's assault has seen the insurgents capture scores of districts and border crossings

KABUL: The United States will continue air strikes in support of Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, a top US general said Sunday, as the insurgents press on with offensives across the country.
Since early May, violence has surged after the insurgents launched a sweeping assault just days after the US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.
The Taliban's deadly assault has seen the insurgents capture scores of districts, border crossings and encircle several provincial capitals.
"The United States has increased air strikes in the support of Afghan forces over the last several days, and we are prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks," General Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Army Central Command, told reporters in Kabul.
McKenzie acknowledged that there were tough days ahead for the Afghan government, but insisted that the Taliban were nowhere close to victory.
"The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign. They are wrong," he said.
"Taliban victory is not inevitable."
McKenzie's remarks came as Afghan officials in the southern province of Kandahar said fighting in the region had displaced about 22,000 families in the past month.
"They have all moved from the volatile districts of the city to safer areas," Dost Mohammad Daryab, head of the provincial refugee department, told AFP.
On Sunday, fighting continued on the outskirts of Kandahar city.
"The negligence of some security forces, especially the police, has made way for the Taliban to come that close," Lalai Dastageeri, deputy governor of Kandahar province, told AFP.
"We are now trying to organise our security forces."
Local authorities had set up four camps for the displaced people who are estimated to be about 154,000.
Kandahar resident Hafiz Mohammad Akbar said his house had been taken over by the Taliban after he fled.
"They forced us to leave... I am now living with my 20-member family in a compound with no toilet," said Akbar.


UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID
Updated 25 July 2021

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID

UK health minister sparks fury by urging people not to ‘cower from’ COVID
  • “Please — if you haven’t yet — get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus,” Javid tweeted
  • Britain has one of the highest official COVID death tolls

LONDON: British health minister Sajid Javid was accused of insulting coronavirus victims on Sunday after urging people to take a COVID-19 vaccine and “learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
Javid, who replaced Matt Hancock as health minister last month after his predecessor stepped down for breaking COVID rules by kissing an aide in his office, began his job by urging people to learn to live with the virus.
Britain, which has one of the highest official COVID death tolls, has shifted its strategy to fight coronavirus from using restrictions to limit its spread to opening up society in the hope vaccines will protect most people from serious illness.
Cases are high, but so is uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, and officials argue the shift is needed to help businesses in sectors such as hospitality and the night-time economy.
Writing on Twitter, Javid said on Saturday he had recovered after testing positive for COVID. “Symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines,” he said.
“Please — if you haven’t yet — get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, was one of several lawmakers from opposition parties and people who have lost family members to the pandemic to criticize his use of the phrase “cower from.”
“127,000 people have died from this virus, tens of thousands of whom would still be here if it wasn’t for the catastrophic failures of your government,” she said on Twitter.
“So how dare you denigrate people for trying to keep themselves and their families safe.”